Cross country skiing along Acadia National Park's Eagle Lake — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
This December why not start a new family holiday tradition by enjoying a Maine cross country ski trip?
Long regarded as the lesser known cousin of downhill skiing, cross country or “Nordic” skiing (as it is also known) makes for a great family recreational pursuit. Indeed, increasing numbers of families are participating in this fast growing sport – no wonder, given its many pluses as a family activity.
The positive attributes of cross country skiing are many. First, consider its affordability. An entry level cross country skiing package (skis, boots, poles) can be had for an average of $200 to $350 for an adult – even less if you comb Craigslist, Ebay and similar Internet posting boards for used skiis. Consider that a downhill skiing equipment package can cost upwards of $800 or more and Nordic skiing is even more cost effective. If you choose not to purchase equipment outright, it is possible to rent skis at a professional cross country ski center for as little as $16 to $20 per day with trail passes averaging $10 to $20 – far less than it costs to rent downhill skis.
The second plus of cross country skiing is its accessibility. Once you have your equipment, you can pretty much take to the trails the next day. Of course, a lesson or two to master control, turns, etc., is helpful – especially if you venture onto advanced courses. However, even beginners can quickly find themselves delightfully gliding along level trails in state forests or similar locations. For families, this means that even your youngest children can take to cross country skiing in no time.
A third positive of cross country skiing is location. Unlike downhill where you need to travel several hours (or days) to find a ski resort, cross country skiing can be done just about any place where there is snow. Within minutes, you can find a golf course, state forest or wilderness preserve, or even an expertly maintained cross country ski center to enjoy this sport.
While Nordic skiing doesn’t offer the fast paced thrills of downhill, it has much in the way of outdoors enjoyment. Most obvious is experiencing nature in winter. Your cross country skis can provide access to the winter quiet and solitude of deep woods Maine. At the same time, the sensation of experiencing dips, twists and turns along a winding nature trail on a pair of Nordic skis is just plain fun. And let’s not forget the fitness aspect of this activity – cross country skiing that is done even at a moderate pace burns hundreds of calories and is one of the best types of aerobic conditioning available.
In terms of where to go to fully indulge in Nordic skiing, Maine has many options. Below are a few types of cross country skiing experiences which you can find in the Pine Tree State:
- Cross Country Ski Centers. With the growth of this sport, many downhill skiing providers now offer a Nordic skiing option through professionally designed outdoor centers. These locations offer groomed trails that are expertly maintained and identified for beginners, intermediate and advanced cross country skiers. Many of these trails are also “tracked” – that is, skiers can fully enjoy the gliding, twists and turns inherent in Nordic skiing by neatly fitting their skis into grooved tracks. Some of the best outdoor centers in the state are those run by Sugarloaf in Carrabasset Valley (for details, visit on the web at: www.sugarloaf.com/OutdoorCenter/index.html ) and Sunday River in Bethel (for details, please visit on the web at: www.sundayriver.com/eventsactivities/Outdoor_Center.html ).
Nordic skiing at the Sunday River Outdoor Center in Bethel — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
- State Parks and Public Preserved Lands. This option is great for those who truly want to experience a deep woods skiing experience. While these trails don’t offer the grooming advantages of outdoor centers, they do make it possible to fully immerse yourself in Maine’s spectacular winter landscape. Also, there are seldom fees associated with this cross country skiing option. It should be noted, however, that cross country skis specially designed for backwoods trails are best in this type of environment. In Maine, some of the best state park skiing can be found at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, Grafton Notch State Park in Newry, Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport, the Kennebunk Bridle Path in Kennebunk and Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth (for details, visit on the web at: www.maine.gov/doc/parks).
Skiing the coast at Crescent Beach State Park at Cape Elizabeth — Photo courtesy of Maine State Parks
- Other Options: Acadia National Park, Maine Huts and Trails, and the Maine Winter Sports Center. Think of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor and you likely envision the famous paved walking paths which are a favorite with walkers and cyclists in the summer. However, what many don’t realize is that Acadia becomes a cross country skiing and snowshoeing paradise in winter. Volunteers take time to groom the snow which covers the walking paths and, as a result, Acadia becomes prime real estate for Nordic skiers. Combine this with the achingly beautiful winter wonderland scenery of Acadia and you have a cross country skiing adventure that is truly one of a kind (for more information, please visit on the web at: www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/crosscountryskiing.htm). Further west, the non-profit Maine Huts and Trails maintains a trail network that consists of many backwoods roads that were once used by lumber companies in the Carrabasset Valley region. These trails wind through heavily forested lands that offer great views of the nearby Bigelow Mountain Range. Use of the trails is free. If you wish, you can reserve an overnight stay in the comfortably appointed lodges run by this organization for a reasonable fee (for more information, please visit on the web at: www.mainehuts.org). Up near the Canadian border, the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent features a massive facility dedicated to the sport of Nordic skiing. The center was created to bring economic development to Maine’s economically troubled north country. While many of the best U.S. Nordic skiers utilize this facility for Olympics training, there are hundreds of miles of prime community ski trails open to the public (visit on the web at: www.mainewsc.org for more information).
Enjoying the Maine Huts and Trails network. — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
Thanks and Happy Skiing this holiday season!